Government

Engineer Charles Voorhis describes the planned community dock in Poquott and answers residents’ questions at a Jan. 5 planning board meeting at Emma Clark Library. YouTube screenshot from Village of Poquott

While the divisiveness over a proposed community dock in the Village of Poquott may be lessening, some are keeping a watchful eye on the plans.

A handful of residents attended a Jan. 5 village planning board meeting at Emma S. Clark Public Library to hear a presentation given by village engineer Charles Voorhis. The managing partner of Nelson, Pope & Voorhis was on hand to discuss the design of the proposed dock, which is planned for California Park at the end of Washington Street.

Voorhis said the proposed fixed dock would be 128-feet long and 4-feet wide, and at the end, would include a landing area measuring 6-feet wide. The engineer said the dock will include water service, solar panel-powered rail lighting for nighttime and an ADA access ramp made of concrete.

During high tide, a beachgoer could walk up the stairs on the north side and down the stairs on the south side, according to Voorhis, and during low tide villagers could walk underneath. There will be a 30-foot gangway that will serve as a transition from the dock to a 30-by-8 foot float which will make it easier to get into boats, especially smaller recreational crafts.

“I will say that this is a very straightforward installation,” he said. “It’s very similar to what you see for recreational piers for residential homes around the harbor.”

“It’s very similar to what you see for recreational piers for residential homes around the harbor.”

— Charles Voorhis

Ted Masters, interim planning board chairman, said the design meets the criteria described in Chapter 64 of the village code. At a Oct. 26 public hearing, the village trustees made amendments to the chapter per suggestions made by the planning board. According to the Oct. 26 meeting’s minutes, the required water depth to build a dock was changed from 4 feet to 3 ½ feet, and the width of the dock was changed from not to exceed 3 ½ feet to 4 feet and may exceed where needed to become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Voorhis said the depth of the water is taken into consideration to ensure any floats for the dock will not rest at the bottom of the waterway and 3 ½ feet is adequate.

After the engineer’s presentation, the meeting was open for public comments and questions.

“I’m just concerned about people who have difficulty maneuvering, putting steps in their way,” Cindy Davis said, after asking if there would be railings, which Voorhis said there would be.

Another resident asked what can be done to prevent icing on the dock. Voorhis said the village is addressing whether or not the dock will need bubblers, which circulates water when there are freezing conditions, and the village is looking into options as far as powering them if needed.

Roger Flood, of Poquott, asked how the dock would be moved and stored in the winter. Voorhis said large cranes are used in many areas including Port Jefferson Harbor, and he suggested an upland location for storage either in the parking lot, since its not used as much in the colder seasons, or a grassy area.

After the Jan. 5 meeting, board trustee Jeff Koppelson said in a phone interview there has been less public debate about building a community dock, a topic that disrupted prior meetings as many questioned the financial impact of installing one.

“The board of trustees are very conscious of what we have to do to keep an eye on the money angle,” he said, adding a notice was recently posted on the village’s website regarding costs.

The board is looking into a five-year bond for $150,000, according to the post, and the payments would be $32,475 per year. The first two years could be paid off if the board approves the moving of $50,000 from the fund balance plus the $16,160 from the Poquott Village Community
Association.

In order to pay the remaining balance of the bond, there would be a tax increase for each household of $80 per year for three years. There would also be the maintenance cost of the dock at $2,075 a year for the village, which would include general maintenance, the floats being removed from the water in the winter and additional insurance.

A few in attendance questioned whether enough or proper notice was given regarding the Jan. 5 meeting. Masters said another public planning board meeting regarding the dock is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 29 at Poquott Village Hall. Residents can also send comments to village hall if they are unable to attend. Dock plans and minutes from past meetings are available for viewing at Poquott’s village hall and posted on its website.

Smithtown resident Tom Lohmann takes the oath of office after accepting appointment to Smithtown Town Board. Photo by Kevin Redding

To the surprise of some residents at a Smithtown board meeting last week, Tom Lohmann was sworn in to the town council position he ran unsuccessfully for in November.

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R), whose campaign team included Lohmann and Nesconset resident Robert Doyle, said in a statement that after “vetting multiple candidates” and sifting through four resumes, Lohmann emerged the clear winner based on his credentials.

Lohmann, a Smithtown resident, is a former member of the New York City Police Department and current investigator for the county district attorney’s  insurance crime bureau. Wehrheim said the new counilman has shown an ability to maintain confidential information, a knowledge of town laws and codes, and a deep understanding of what the residents want.

“I did not feel there was a rush to appoint anybody.”

— Lynn Nowick

“Ultimately, the deciding factor was in choosing an individual who would work the most cohesively together with the entire town council,” the supervisor said.

But not everyone agrees with the town board on this decision, including one of its own.

Councilwoman Lynn Nowick (R) abstained from voting on the appointment Jan. 9, saying she felt as though there should have been a more thorough vetting process. The councilwoman said she felt there should have been open interviews conducted with all interested candidates during one of the board’s work sessions.

In fact, Nowick said “there was no process” or any townwide notification that the council was accepting resumes for the position. She also said she wanted to hear community input before a decision was made.

“I did not feel there was a rush to appoint anybody,” Nowick said. “It was only Jan. 9. I’m certain we could’ve survived for a few weeks … I would like to have met as a group and interviewed [prospective candidates].”

Among those who spoke out against Lohmann’s appointment was Robert Souto, of Nesconset. Souto said he felt the position should have gone to Democrat Amy Fortunato instead as she placed third in the general election, behind the two incumbents, receiving 17.6 percent of the votes. He asked board members “what was going on” with their decision to appoint Lohmann.

“This is out in public now and it just doesn’t look good,” Souto said. “It seems to be tainted. It’s not a good way to start out.”

Ed Maher, chairman of the Smithtown Democratic Committee, said to the best of his knowledge, there was no official request by the town for applications to fill the position and he was never contacted about a vetting process.

He said Fortunato sent her resume in for consideration, but did so unsolicited, separate from the Democratic committee. Fortunato said she didn’t receive any response from Wehrheim or the town after submitting her resume.

“I think that the Republicans in town made the decision that Tom Lohmann was going to be appointed and they went and did it,” Maher said. “I don’t want to see the town return to where the town’s Republican Committee seems to be making the decisions of who gets to be in town government.”

“This is out in public now and it just doesn’t look good. It seems to be tainted. It’s not a good way to start out.”

— Robert Souto

The party chair said he is hopeful that the Democratic party will be represented on the town board after the town council elections this November.

Joseph Saggese, a St. James resident and Certified Public Accountant, also submitted an application for the open town board seat. Saggese has served on the Smithtown Central School District’s board of education for seven years and has been on the Smithtown Board of Ethics for six years. A registered Republican, Saggese said he was encouraged by other Smithtown Republicans to apply.

“I spoke with Ed Wehrheim and he told me he was going with Lohmann,” Saggese said. “He has a loyalty to the guy that ran with him. I understand loyalty, but there are other ways to repay loyalty. I wish him and everyone else luck though.”

Nicole Garguilo, town spokeswoman, said Lohmann was appointed because he brought a much-needed law enforcement background to the table. She said it was felt he will be an asset when it comes to interacting with the 4th Precinct, emergency medical services and tackling the opioid problem.

Lohmann has been appointed to serve through Dec. 31,  and will have to run a campaign for re-election this November if he wishes to serve the remaining year of Wehrheim’s council seat from Jan.. 1 to Dec. 31, 2019.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin tours Elsie Owens Health Center in Coram before a press conference in which he called on Congress to reauthorize CHIP. Photo from Zeldin's office

By Alex Petroski

Political gridlock is nothing new in Washington, but if an agreement on a federal funding bill isn’t reached by Jan. 19, this time children’s health will be at risk.

In September, the Children’s Health Insurance Program expired, and Congress passed a short-term funding bill just before Christmas to keep the federal government funded through this Friday. The program, also known as CHIP, is a service that provides low-cost health coverage to children in families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Originally enacted in 1997, CHIP provides matching funds to states for health insurance to families with children. It was slated to run for 10 years, but has since been reauthorized on several occasions since 2007. In 2016, almost 9 million children were enrolled in the program, according to Medicaid.gov. The program covers routine check-ups; immunizations; doctor visits; prescriptions; dental and vision care; and emergency services for enrollees. In November, the House passed a five-year reauthorization bill to keep the program running, but it never reached the Senate floor.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) urged lawmakers to pass a bill reauthorizing funding for the program, which also provides funding for community health centers, during a press conference Jan. 12 at Elsie Owens Health Center in Coram. A long-term bill will need to be passed to keep services like CHIP running for the remainder of 2018.

“These essential programs provide millions of children, veterans and individuals with the healthcare services they need,” Zeldin said. “In New York alone, CHIP provides health insurance for 300,000 New York children, while nearly 2 million New Yorkers rely on Community Health Centers for their health care services. On behalf of the millions of New Yorkers who rely on CHIP and Community Health Centers, we must reach across the aisle and work together to preserve these vital programs.”

Although more political debates will likely ensue on other issues pursuant to funding the government through the end of the year, Zeldin said he doesn’t expect reauthorization of CHIP to be used for bargaining by either political party.

“I do not expect to see a partial shutdown after next Friday, so everyone anticipates the funding to continue, but this also presents an opportunity to add the reauthorization language into the next funding bill,” Zeldin said in an interview after the event. “It’s two parts that have been running on different tracks. However, I believe that there is an opportunity here to add the reauthorization language to get it through the House, through the Senate, signed by the President — and reauthorization done.”

New York’s U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D) have each stressed the importance of renewing CHIP as part of larger federal funding discussions.

“We have two weeks to negotiate a budget deal that must also address a host of other items, #ExtendCHIP, community health centers, disaster aid, and of course, the #Dreamers,” Schumer said in a Jan. 3 tweet.

HRH Care Community Health President and Chief Executive Officer Anne Kauffman Nolon, Elsie Owens Health Center Medical Director Nadia Arif and Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center President and CEO Richard Margulis were among the healthcare professionals in attendance who applauded Zeldin’s calls for funding.

“Not extending the funding for these vital programs could have a devastating effect on both our population, and BMHMC, which also faces potential cuts as a Disproportionate Share Hospital,” Margulis said.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, five-year reauthorization of CHIP would cost $800 million over a 10-year period.

Town to send letter to New York State comptroller asking for review of town's finances

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci said the town will send a letter to the state comptroller's office asking for a review of the town's finances. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

A request by Huntington’s new town board to have the state comptroller review the town’s finances was met with criticism.

Huntington Town Board voted 4-1 at its Jan. 3 meeting to go forward with a request to New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D) to conduct a review and audit of the town’s finances, policies and procedures. Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) was the sole vote against the measure.

“I just think this is a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money,” he said. “I think it’s a shot at the prior administration that had healthy financials and won a number of awards each year for the records we keep and our finances.”

In December, the Town of Huntington received its 17th consecutive certificate of achievement for excellence in financial reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association.  The nonprofit professional association serving nearly 18,000 government financial professionals across North America, had reviewed the town’s comprehensive financial report for the year ending Dec. 31, 2016.

I just think this is a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money.”
— Mark Cuthbertson

Councilman Eugene Cook (R), who sponsored the audit resolution, denied that it was a strike against former Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) and his practices, but rather a way to provide for a fresh start.

“Any business owner knows if they are buying a new business and going into a new business, they want to check all the records,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Cuthbertson suggested given the lengthy time and funds it would require for the state to audit the town, the new administration and town officials would be better served by studying the town’s yearly internal audits performed by an outside contractor.

Cook sponsored a similar resolution in 2012 calling for state review, but it failed to gain the board’s approval. Petrone then offered a revised resolution that was approved, and ultimately resulted in a 2013 audit conducted by the state comptroller.

The 2013 audit report, which reviewed the town’s finances from Jan. 1, 2011, to May 31, 2012, found issues with the town’s ability to track overtime hours and paid leave for town employees adequately.

“We found that the town may have higher payroll costs than necessary because town officials did not monitor and control these costs,” states the 2013 audit’s summary findings.

Any business owner knows if they are buying a new business and going into a new business, they want to check all the records.”
— Gene Cook

The state comptroller’s office also found the town was awarding contracts to attorneys without going through the standard bidding process and then paid without providing detailed invoices in some cases. Recommendations were made and discussed between state and Huntington officials on corrective actions to be made.

“While serving as an affirmation of the policies that have helped Huntington maintain its AAA bond rating, we also appreciate the audit’s insight on how to make Huntington’s government operate even more efficiently,” Petrone had said in his response to the 2013 audit. “We will consider changes to implement the recommendations we have not already put into place.”

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D), who worked for the town prior to 2013 and was sworn in to sit on the town board this month, voted in favor of requesting the state comptroller’s office perform an audit, though she said the measure was not necessary.

“I welcome an audit, but I don’t think it’s going to happen,” the councilwoman said. “If there is one, I think it will prove we run a tight ship.”

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said the resolution merely sends a letter to the state comptroller’s office to review the town’s financials “if they feel it is necessary,” to indicate the town would be both willing and cooperative in the process.

6,000-square-foot home would be built on Cuba Hill Road in Greenlawn

A conceptual rendering of the proposed K.I.D.S. Plus adult group home in Greenlawn. Photo from Facebook

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A Northport advocate and Cuba Hill Road residents will have additional time to reach an understanding over a proposed Greenlawn adult home.

Huntington Town Board voted to unanimously Jan. 3 to extend the time to make a decision on whether K.I.D.S. Plus Inc. should receive a special use permit to operate an adult home off Cuba Hill Road for those with physical and developmental disabilities age 21 and over.

Dozens of residents have spoken up with concerns about the proposed 6,000 square-foot building since the town’s Oct. 17 public hearing, citing concerns about traffic, landscaping, overall size of the home and density of group homes in the area.

“The homes tend not to be very large; the properties are large, that’s why we like to live there,” said Taylor McLam in October, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner who said his residence is approximately 1,200 square feet by comparison. “Seven times the size of my house seems a little much.”

Cuba Hill resident John Wilson presented the town with a petition signed by approximately 30 residents at their Jan. 3 meeting.

“One of the conditions is it shouldn’t change the character of the neighborhood,” he said. “This neighborhood is a section of Cuba Hill Road between Manor and Little Plains Road, that isn’t very built up. The houses are generally on more than an acre.”

A conceptual sketch of the interior layout of K.I.D.S. Plus proposed Greenlawn home for individuals with physical and developmental disabilities. Rendering from K.I.D.S. Plus.

K.I.D.S. Plus founder Tammie Murphy Topel, a Northport resident, said she has hosted two community meetings since October 2017 to hear and address the Greenlawn residents’ concerns, in addition to one-on-one meetings. Based on their feedback, Murphy Topel said she’s made revisions to her proposed building plans.

“We want to know what’s going on in the community, we want to be good neighbors,” she said. “We don’t want to be adversarial in any way.”

One of the most cited issues, according to Murphy Topel, was the appearance of the originally planned 26-foot-wide driveway for vehicles. After speaking with Huntington officials, changes have been made to narrow that to 20 feet, the width of a standard two-car
garage, according to Murphy Topel.

She said significant work has been put into the landscaping of the outside of the building, sharing an artistic rendering showing a variety of indigenous trees planted postconstruction to help obscure view of the building from Cuba Hill Road and its neighbors. The outdoor lighting will feature gooseneck barn lamps to direct the light downward instead of out, according to
Murphy Topel, with some subtle ground lighting along the driveway.

Murphy Topel hopes to share these new renderings and changes with concerned Greenlawn residents at a community meeting set for Jan. 19, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Harborfields Public Library. She said she has invited all town board members, town planning officials and any residents.

One thing she won’t consider is downsizing the 6,000-square-foot size of the home featuring suites for eight individuals, she said, which is all one level.

“These are people with disabilities looking at this as a forever home,” Murphy Topel said. “We are looking into the future when there will be ambulatory issues. We don’t want them to be navigating stairs.”

Even the K.I.D.S. Plus founder had to admit though, the parcel she purchased  on Cuba Hill Road is less than ideal for constructing the home, due to its hilly nature, the amount of grading and retaining walls that will be required.

“By designation in the [town] code, we have to have a two-acre piece of property and in the town of Huntington, there’s not a whole lot of two-acre pieces of property that are affordable,” Murphy Topel said. “If someone else can find me a two-acre piece of property for $400,000, I would take it, flip this land and build elsewhere.”

New law closes loophole to permanently ban replacement of old, primitive cesspool technology to reduce nitrogen levels in water

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, center, displays the new county law banning the updating or instillation of primitive cesspools and the technology associated with them, as he’s surrounded by local leaders and environmental group organizers during a press conference. Photo from Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s office

Repairing old cesspools is now a thing of the past in Suffolk County.

As part of an ongoing effort to improve water quality on Long Island, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed into law a ban on installing new cesspools, ending the practice of grandfathering inadequate
sanitary system fixes with the now-primitive technology.

“It marks another historic step forward in our ongoing effort to reverse decades of nitrogen pollution that has degraded water quality in our lakes, bays and harbors, and it is a step that is long overdue,” Bellone said. “It is fairly unusual for the local governments, environmental groups and the region’s largest builders group to agree on the importance of tightening up outdated regulations to protect water quality, but that is exactly what happened in this instance. This inclusive, collaborative approach is making a huge difference in our efforts to reduce decades of nitrogen pollution.”

Cesspools have been identified as primary sources of nitrogen pollution that have degraded water quality throughout Suffolk County, contributing to harmful algae blooms, beach closures and fish kills. The use of cesspools in new construction has been banned in the county since 1973, when a requirement for the addition of a septic tank was added, but the county sanitary code did not require that homeowners add a septic tank when replacing an existing cesspool, making it legal to install a new cesspool to replace an existing one. By now closing this loophole, it will advance the water quality efforts undertaken by the county and set the stage for the evolution away from the use of nonperforming cesspools and septic systems to the use of new, state-of-the-art technologies that reduce nitrogen in residential wastewater by up to 70 percent, according to Bellone.

“With this action, I would like to say that we, as a county, have adopted the policies necessary to adequately address our region’s nitrogen pollution problems, but in reality, this gets us closer to where we should have been in the decades following 1973,” said county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), a co-sponsor of the Article 6 revisions and chairwoman of the Suffolk County Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee. “I look forward to continuing the process of finally bringing Suffolk County’s sanitary code into the 21st century.”

In addition to banning the installation of new cesspools, the law approved by the Suffolk County Legislature Dec. 5 requires the wastewater industry to provide data regarding system replacement and pumping activities to the Department of Health Services beginning July 1, 2018. It also mandates permits for replacement of existing systems effective July 1, 2019, and requires business properties with grandfathered nonconforming wastewater flows to install nitrogen-reducing advanced systems if making significant changes to the use of the property.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, joined forces with other environmental group leaders in thanking the county for what was a necessary step in eliminating nitrogen from groundwater.

“We can no longer allow inadequately treated sewage to mix with our sole source of drinking water,” she said. “Modernizing our health codes is a commonsense action that is critically needed for water protection.”

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said he was overjoyed by the “huge step,” ending pollution by what he called Suffolk’s No. 1 threat to clean water.

“Now, we’re not just complaining,” he said. “We’re doing something about it.”

For the past three years, Suffolk’s Legislature has instituted a pilot program to test the new technologies, using a lottery system to select homeowners willing to have a donated system installed to demonstrate system performance. Under the pilot program, a total of 14 different technologies have been installed at 39 homes throughout the county. Four have been provisionally approved for use after demonstrating six months of acceptable operating data. As part of continued efforts, a voluntary Septic Improvement Program, the first of its kind in the state, was launched in July 2017 to provide grants and low-interest financing to make the replacement of cesspools and septic systems with new innovative/alternative technologies affordable for homeowners who choose to upgrade their systems. Over the first five months, nearly 850 homeowners have registered for the program, 228 have completed applications and 160 have been awarded grants and are moving toward installation of the new systems.

Suffolk County was the first in the state to apply for funding from New York State’s newly created $75 million Septic System Replacement Fund and will use the funding to expand its efforts to see the new technologies installed throughout the county.

The changes are the first in what is expected to be a series of updates to the county sanitary code over the next several years as county officials consider whether to put in place policies that require new nitrogen-
reducing systems in new construction projects, require installation of the new systems when a cesspool or septic system fails and needs to be replaced, or upon sale of a property. For now, all parties involved are on the same page moving forward, including both a working group comprised of county legislators, town planners and engineers with members of environmental organizations, as well as the Long Island Builders Institute.

“There is more work to do,” said Kevin McDonald, conservation finance and policy director for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. “But passage of this bill means less nitrogen pollution in our water, and more resilient, healthy bays and people for generations to come.”

Smithtown resident Tom Lohmann takes the oath of office after accepting appointment to Smithtown Town Board. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Sara-Megan Walsh

In Smithtown, a new year brings with it new chances.

Almost two months after Tom Lohmann (C) was trounced in the race for Smithtown Town Board, the former New York City Police Department member was sworn in to fill the vacant council seat left by new supervisor, Ed Wehrheim (R).

Lohmann, 60, a special investigator for the Suffolk district attorney, came in sixth place receiving 9.31 percent of the votes as candidate on the Conservative ticket Nov. 7. He was appointed councilman at the Jan. 9 town board meeting.

His appointment officially took effect Jan. 10, and he will serve through Dec. 31. Lohmann will need to campaign in November if he wishes to fill the remaining year of Wehrheim’s term through December 2019.

Tom Lohmann. Photo by Johnny Cirillo

“I wasn’t expecting this,” Lohmann said of his appointment by Wehrheim, rumblings of which were heard at the end of December. “It’s a big privilege and I’m honored that the board saw fit to give me this opportunity. Over the next 11 months, the people in this town will see the type of person that I am — my word is my bond and I look forward to working for the people in this community.”

Lohmann said he intends to make good on his campaign promises to revise and update Smithtown’s “antiquated” code and redevelop a comprehensive master plan to include all hamlets, in consultation with civic groups and local businesses, to create a better, more transparent government. During the campaign, he said he would like to start up quarterly community meetings in different hamlets so town officials could sit with residents to gauge their concerns and get feedback. He will also be the only town councilmember from Smithtown as the others reside in St. James and Kings Park.

During the meeting, three members of the board — Wehrheim, Lisa Inzerillo (R) and Thomas McCarthy (R) — voted to appoint Lohmann with councilman Lynn Nowick (R) abstaining. Nowick said she wanted an
opportunity to vet all the interested parties for the position and hear community input before making her decision. The town board had about four résumés for the council seat to review, Wehrheim said.

“I would like to have had a longer, more thorough vetting process,” Nowick said. “I wanted to first hear the public possibly at this meeting or the second meeting this month, because I answer to them. But I have no problem with Mr. Lohmann. We’ll work together fine.”

Many residents took to the podium to confront Wehrheim and the rest of the board about their decision to appoint Lohmann instead of Democratic candidate Amy Fortunato. Fortunato placed third in the general election, behind the two incumbents in the election with 17.60 percent of the votes.

“Amy received almost double the amount of votes as Mr. Lohmann,” said Maria LaMalfa, a Smithtown resident of 33 years. “We have 23,000 Democrats, 35,000 Republicans and 2,000 minor party registered voters and we all want the same things in our town. I think the way to accomplish what we want is to work together as a coalition. We have not had that in all the years I’ve lived here.”

“I would like to have had a longer, more thorough vetting process”
—Lynne Nowick

Another resident, Elizabeth Isabella, echoed these concerns.

“I hope in the future we can dialogue across party lines and I want you to know I do congratulate you, but I am very disappointed that Amy’s votes were not taken into consideration,” Isabella said. “And I do wonder what the conversation was as you made your decision.”

Wehrheim pointed out that two major appointments made to the Conservation Board made earlier in the meeting were given to Democrats.

“We do intend to work across party lines,” Wehrheim responded.

Following the meeting, the new supervisor further defended his decision to bring Lohmann aboard, claiming he was a perfect fit for the board.

“We needed to find someone who is thinking the way we’re thinking moving forward so the government can be cohesive and all on the same page,” Wehrheim said. “I also believe there’s a distinct advantage of having someone on this board with a law enforcement background. I think he’ll be an asset when it comes to interacting with [police] and dealing with the opioid epidemic.

Old Field residents, neighbors crowd village hall to express concerns over proposed tower in park

Residents and nonresidents of Old Field are protesting the proposed plan to install a cellphone tower on the grounds of the park known as Kaltenborn Commons, above, saying it will be unaesthetic and create possible health consequences. Photo from the Village of Old Field website

A battle might be on the horizon over a proposed cellphone tower.

Before the Jan. 9 public board meeting in the Village of Old Field, residents living slightly outside the community’s borders received a letter simply signed “Concerned Neighbors.” A number of residents were alarmed to hear the village board was proposing the construction of a cellphone tower at a public park known by many as Kaltenborn Commons located at the intersection of Old Field Road and Quaker Path.

The letter writers asked residents of Old Field and surrounding streets to attend the monthly meeting to voice their concerns about health, economic and aesthetic issues. The agenda for the meeting included a presentation by Tanya Negron, founder of Elite Towers, a Long Island-based company that develops wireless telecommunications tower sites and is working on the Old Field project, to answer any questions.

A few dozen Old Field and Setauket residents crammed into the small Keeper’s Cottage that serves as the village’s meeting hall. Negron said the proposed tower, which is similar to the one on the bluff in Belle Terre, will have a 50-by-50-foot footprint. A stealth concealment pole, the slim structure will have cellphone carrier antennae inside, and the only antennae that would be outside are for emergency agencies, such as the fire department, if requested.

Elite Towers sketch for proposed cellphone tower in Old Field. Photo from John Coughlin

Negron said the area around it will be landscaped based on the village’s recommendations and no trees will be removed. The pole will be centralized within the property and set back from the road 132 feet on the west, 130 feet on the east and 160 feet to the south.

Many in attendance raised concerns and asked questions of the board members, with Mayor Michael Levine multiple times reminding participants to speak one at a time.

Former board member John Von Lintig said when he sat on the board for six years, the suggestion of installing a cellphone tower came up frequently. The conclusion was always that there was no suitable place to put it in the village without negatively affecting those around it.

“You put it right in the gateway of the village, and it is unconfirmed but with definitely possible health effects, it has possible economic effects on the homes immediately surrounding on resale, and it has aesthetic impact on people coming into the village seeing this thing,” Von Lintig said.

While a few in the room believed there are no health consequences in association with cellphone tower poles, one Setauket couple, who live across from the park, said they worry about potential health risks.

“We have three kids that are in that park daily,” Charles Catania said. “You can’t promise me or tell me there are no health consequences in connection with this pole.”

Oleg Gang, who works at Brookhaven National Laboratory, said he lives in close proximity to the proposed location. He said the savings in property taxes due to the revenue generated by the pole was negligible, and even with WiFi and an extender, it’s possible to improve an individual’s cellphone service at home.

Gang said board members need to research studies concerning the increase of various cancers and other disorders when living a certain distance from a tower, even if the conclusions are not definitive or there are debates.

“The bottom line is it’s not clear, but because it’s not clear, and there are so many technical solutions, and there is no benefit really from the tax point of view because it’s negligible, it’s really irresponsible to put it in the backyard of the people who will be suffering potentially five or 10 years getting cancer,” Gang said.

“We have three kids that are in that park daily. You can’t promise me or tell me there are no health consequences in connection with this pole.”

— Charles Catania

According to the website of the American Cancer Society, there is currently very little evidence to support the idea of cellphone towers increasing the risk of cancers or other health problems.

Many also said the tower will be aesthetically unappealing not only to nearby residents but to those considering buying a home in Old Field.

One resident who lives across from the park and considers the land historic said she found the board a bit smug toward those who didn’t live in the village.

“You are basically desecrating historic land by erecting this horrendous looking thing,” she said. “When we are in our yards, we are going to be laying in our pools or sitting in our lounge chairs looking at this freaking pole that is 130 feet tall. So all you’re saying, first of all comes across a little demeaning to us, and it’s not right at all. Secondly, it does affect our property values.”

She added that she spoke to a real estate agent who said home values can potentially drop 20 percent when such a pole is installed.

To address concerns regarding health issues and real estate prices dropping, Levine asked anyone who knows of experts in the fields to invite them to talk at future board meetings.

One resident in favor of the pole said it will generate tax revenue for the village and make the community more attractive to younger people who don’t use landlines.

“As I look around here, the average age of the person in this room is over 50,” he said. “Let me tell you something; your kids and my kids don’t use landlines, OK? They want cell coverage, and we don’t have decent cell coverage.”

Village lawyer Anthony Guardino said installing the pole would result in $40,000 capital at the outset and another $15,000 capital contribution for each canister that goes in the tower in village revenue. The village would also receive 40 percent of the rent stream from the first carrier, 45 percent from the second and 50 percent from any others.

Levine said if the village decides not to install a pole there is still a chance that Stony Brook University will do so on its Sunwood Estate property as the university has filed a request for proposals to install a cellphone tower, and the estate is one of the suggested locations. If this occurs, the village would not generate any revenue from the SBU pole.

Options were discussed at the meeting including installing the cellphone tower near the Old Field lighthouse. Levine said the location had been considered but the U.S. Coast Guard, which supervises the lighthouse, must approve it. While the village reached out to the Coast Guard, it did not receive a definitive answer.

Another subject of contention was the lack of notification for those who live right outside of Old Field who feel they will be affected. Others said even though they are residents, they were unaware of discussions about a cellphone tower. Levine and Village Clerk Adrienne Kessel reminded residents to sign up for email notifications, and they said the village posts meeting information on its website available to both residents and nonresidents. The mayor also said the village is not legally required to notify nonresidents but they are always welcome to attend the meetings.

Levine stressed that a lease agreement has not been signed yet, and the board will schedule one or two more meetings to hear from Old Field residents and its neighbors. The next public board meeting will be held Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. For more information visit www.oldfieldny.org.

Recent volunteers with the Stony Brook University’s food pantry gather at the location. Photo by Greta Strenger

Stony Brook University is ahead of the curve when it comes to ensuring students are well nourished.

In December, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled a proposal of the 2018 State of the State that includes the No Student Goes Hungry Program. The five-point plan was conceived to combat hunger and food insecurity for students in kindergarten through college. If legislation is passed, all State University of New York and City University of New York schools will be required to offer a food pantry on their campuses or enable students to receive food through stigma-free means — something SBU has been doing since 2013. Currently half of all SUNY and CUNY campuses offer food pantries, according to the governor’s office.

“This program is essential to the success of future New York leaders and this administration remains committed to removing barriers to healthy food options, while providing a supportive, effective learning environment for students across this great state,” Cuomo said in a statement.

According to Hunger on Campus, a report and survey conducted by a number of national campus organizations, 48 percent of college-aged respondents to surveys experienced food insecurity within 30 days.

A student volunteer stocks the shelves of the food pantry with nonperishable items donated by SBU community members. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

SBU clinical assistant professor Donna Crapanzano, pantry co-director since 2016, said associate professor Carlos Vidal of the School of Health Technology and Management brought the idea to the university in 2011. Since it opened in 2013, the pantry has provided food donated by members of campus organizations to 4,100 food-insecure students, faculty and staff members. Currently open 10 hours a week in the university’s Information Technologies Study Center at the Grey College building, approximately 20 student volunteers man the pantry, and there are plans to expand operating hours in the spring.

“I think it’s a great initiative,” Crapanzano said. “One of the things that’s really important to me, and I joke about this all the time with students, is I believe the first thing of your day should be breakfast. You can’t get a good day started if you’re not fueled up, and your brain doesn’t work without having fuel. So, [Cuomo’s] initiative is starting with pre-school and going through 12th grade and then to extend that because you’re still a student, you’re still being educated. We know that food is a primary source of you not only succeeding in your academics but eventually succeeding in the workforce.”

To use the SBU food pantry, one only needs to provide a school identification card.

“One of our goals was to really make it an environment where you don’t have to have any other reason other than being a SBU student, faculty or staff, because one day may be different from another day,” Crapanzano said. “It’s not based on overall finances, it’s based on what the needs are in your life at the time.”

The professor said she and fellow director Richard Sigal, SBU’s assistant director for college housing for Roth Quad, have worked with a nutritionist to provide balanced choices to pantry visitors, and each guest to the pantry receives a fruit, vegetable, protein and a carbohydrate. The food pantry asks for nonperishable food items that contain less than 30 percent of the overall daily intake of sodium and 25 grams or less of sugar. If donated food includes higher amounts of salt and sugar, it is placed on a “junk” table where volunteers will remind a person taking it to make sure it is balanced with something nutritious. Crapanzano said one example is cutting Ramen noodles with another type of pasta or beans.

“We do our best to educate the guests who come to know what are better ways for them to make a healthy eating choice when they can,” she said, adding that volunteers adiscuss food labels with pantry guests so they know what to look for when they shop on their own.

“It’s not based on overall finances; it’s based on what the needs are in your life at the time.”

— Donna Crapanzano

Crapanzano said every academic year an intern works with the directors. Since the fall semester of 2017, SeungJu Lee, a graduate student in social welfare, has been collaborating with them on projects such as creating more community outreach.

“I didn’t know we had this pantry at first, [until] I became a social work student,” Lee said. “Many students aren’t aware about our food pantry. So we’re trying to do many promotions and give awareness of food insecurity and the food pantry.”

The graduate student said it has been a positive experience for her, and she has met many people from the university community.

“The food pantry is an informal place where we welcome guests and make small talk with them,” Lee said, adding that volunteers and patrons often will discuss classes.

One experience she said she will always remember is a conversation with a college staff member who donated food, telling Lee she once needed help from various social welfare agencies and now wanted to pay it forward.

Crapanzano said there have been a number of people who have used the pantry in the past and have later come back to volunteer.

“It’s full circle,” she said. “You help out somebody and then they return the help, and then you develop a relationship that you know helped that person get a little bit further because they just needed something at that time.”

A look at Port Jefferson Harbor from the Village Center during Winter Storm Grayson as blizzard-force winds and more than a foot of snow pound the coast Jan. 4. Photo from Margot Garant

Winter Storm Grayson arrived early Jan. 4 and pounded Port Jefferson, and the surrounding areas to the tune of more than 16 inches of snow.

The storm was officially categorized as a blizzard by the New York office of the National Weather Service, with sustained winds or frequent gusts greater than 35 mph, “considerable” falling and blowing snow, visibility of less than a quarter of a mile and more than three hours of duration. Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Luppinacci (R), Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) declared states of emergency for each of their respective jurisdictions.

“This storm was actually worse than predicted for us,” Bellone said during a briefing Jan. 5. “We saw up to 16 inches of snow in certain parts of the county. This was, as we discussed, a very difficult and challenging storm because of all the conditions — high rate of snowfall, very rapid rate and high winds. It made it very difficult. I want to thank all of those who heeded our calls to stay off the roads yesterday. There were far too many people on the roads. The result was hundreds of motorists ended up stranded.”

Based on unofficial observations taken Jan. 4 and 5, the highest snowfall total reported by the New York NWS office was in Terryville, where 16.4 inches of snow fell during the storm. Suffolk County appeared to take the brunt of Grayson’s wrath according to the NWS data, not only in actual snowfall, but also as the home to the highest wind gusts in the state during the storm, with gusts exceeding 60 mph.

Despite the substantial snowfall totals, Main Street in Port Jeff Village was up and running and open for business Friday morning, according to Garant, who said the village’s Department of Public Works did an “A++” job in an email.

“We have a good system and a great team in place,” she said, adding she was thrilled with how quickly village streets were passable. “The community really makes this possible for us by staying home and avoiding parking on the snow emergency streets.”

Steve Gallagher, the village’s DPW superintendent, said 22 village DPW employees worked using nine trucks equipped with plows and nine trucks with both plows and sanders to clear the streets. He estimated the village used between 150 and 200 tons of salt and sand mix to mitigate the impact of road and sidewalk icing. He reiterated Garant’s point that cooperation from the public is critical in returning the village back to business as usual following a storm.

“Village roads were passable at all times thanks to the dedication and commitment of the men in the DPW,” he said. “People staying off the roads and not parking in the streets would help expedite the clearing of the roads and allow a better job.”

PSEG Long Island reported 97 percent of the 21,700 of its customers who lost power as a result of the storm had their service restored by 9 p.m. Jan. 5.

“Our goal, always, is to restore power as quickly and safely as possible,” a spokesperson for the utility said in a press release. “We ask our customers for a fair amount of patience and to know we will be there just as soon as it is safe.”

The storm came in the midst of a record-setting stretch of below freezing temperatures, according to the NWS. A streak of 13 straight days with a maximum temperature below 32 degrees Fahrenheit measured at Long Island McArthur Airport in Islip was snapped Jan. 9. The 13-day duration was the second longest period of below freezing temperatures reported at the airport since 1963.

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